“Joshua Tree National Park has the same problem right now. There’s phenomenal fuel out there. Ironically,” he added, “a wet year can burn out a desert town. It’s a lot safer to live in Pioneertown during the worst drought of all time than it is in a wet year.”
“The problem is that you’ve got to sort out the variables,” Minnich said. “It doesn’t matter how much nitrogen you throw on the landscape when you have a record rainfall. The more it rains, the more stuff grows. Keep it simple.”
On Thursday afternoon while the fires still burned, I drove to the Morongo Valley, where I could see the fire from Highway 62. As I neared the grade where the highway winds through Big Morongo Canyon, the thermometer in my car flipped over to 114 degrees. Flames licked the hills close to the road, and the entire sky had turned a milky terra cotta, a veil of smoke so thick you could look straight at the sun. It was hard to look back at the devastation as something wildflowers wrought. Then again, natural processes are full of contradictions.
D.P. Myers wouldn’t talk about causes and conductors like wildflowers or nitrogen-fed grasses. “I’m not qualified,” he said. He would only discuss the work he’s begun to restore what God or man — or a combination of both — has destroyed.
“We started a massive restoration process the first day we were able to get in there,” he said. “We’ve started our own seed stock to grow native plants. It helps when we’re eradicating the noxious weeds to have something planted in place so they don’t grow up.” And while he wouldn’t go so far as to call the blaze unnatural, “it was extremely big and extremely devastating,” he acknowledged. “I hope we don’t see anything else like this for a very long time.”